Perhaps one of the most interesting endeavors I’ve seen local businesses and residents merge to accomplish is the Pringle Creek Community. It is as green a thing as a thing can get, as far as I can tell. It is an area with green streets, green buildings, green trees.
This community is currently 32 acres, but slated to become larger as the old Fairview buildings are removed. The streets are named after some of the better known nature advocates; John Muir, Jane Goodall, Jacques Cousteau, John Audobon, and are paved by green street methods which include porous asphalt, gravel shoulders, bioswales, drainage courses, and rain gardens at each intersection, all aiding in filtering rainwater runoff.
My small, personal experience with Fairview Training Center:
The driveway was an uphill excursion in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. At the top of the driveway sat a two story building painted a green or grayish green. Whatever the color was called, I’m sure that it was probably supposed to be gentle and friendly but was so unusual a color for a home or business in my small experiences that it gave me the heebie-jeebies. Tall trees surrounded the area, the kinds of trees with oddly placed limbs all akimbo which caused them to resemble black and white monsters from a scary movie. Looking back, I would say that many of the trees were oak trees. Wherever mom parked her car, though, it invariably sat in the shade of one of these great giants and the dark shadows chilled me to trembling despite the heat of summer.
I was always terrified of that place. I remember being a young girl, maybe eight years old or so, and driving up the long, swerving drive with my mom when she went to visit her cousin. I remember waiting in the car, but I don’t remember why I didn’t go in with her; just that it was her idea that I stay in the car, alone with a series of large unmatched buildings and crooked, towering, oaks looming over me. Perhaps children have a sense of things, or maybe they have too much imagination, or it could be both of those combined which caused my fear as I waited for my mother to finish visiting her cousin at the Fairview Training Center, the home for the mentally disadvantaged in Salem, Oregon.
The large windows were almost as big as the walls themselves and were sectioned into panes of smaller windows, equaling hundreds of dark eyes watching everything that goes on both outside and inside the building. In stark contrast, the four stately columns adorning the front of the building conveyed a sense of calm to my young imagination as I waited for my ever graceful mother to emerge and glide between the two middle pillars like Cleopatra; beautiful, regal, and…victorious?
Aside from my mother’s entrance through the double wooden doors, no one entered or exited that building while I sat in the car, so I get the impression she wasn’t gone long, but every time we made that trip I encountered the same feelings of fear of the dark shadows, fear of the unknown.
My Mom once told me the story of how her cousin was sent to live at Fairview many years ago when he was four years old because he was deaf and his parents did not know how to care for him. I always asked my mother what she did while she was inside there, and she always told me she was putting money on his books. Long before Fairview Hospital and Training Center was closed down for good in February of 2000, Mom’s cousin was deemed able to care for himself and he moved to Portland to be near his brothers and sisters.
We often fear the unknown. I’m sure much of the trepidation I felt while waiting in the car for my mother to complete her errand inside the facility was due more to my imagination than the trees, the buildings, or the people that I actually never saw, and only fancied to be scary. A kid has creative thinking if nothing else, I suppose. And I imagined all I knew about the mentally disadvantaged while I sat in that old beige Rambler of my mom’s. I knew of such a kid at my grade school who never talked to anyone. He was not in my class but I saw him on the playground every day, walking around without connection, without problem, without engagement. And I think that therein lies the cause of my fear – lack of engagement, lack of him realizing my personhood – perhaps his own personhood he did not even understand, but if that were the case, why would he cry out when he fell down on the playground, or when angered? Pure imagination and no knowledge is a scary thing.
At one time, Fairview Hospital and Training Center was largely self-sustaining. It was built on nearly 800 acres and produced much of its own food and energy for all the residents at Fairview as well as the 80 buildings located on the property. Over time, as Salem expanded, it grew closer to the area, making it more convenient to get goods and services from town. The self-sustainability of Fairview fell by the wayside and eventually the property utilized by the facility was shaved down to 275 acres. In the 1990’s unrest at the training center grew amid allegations of mistreatment of the people who lived there and In February of 2000 it was closed down for good, the ex-residents now living within the community and hopefully closer to their loved ones. (After closing down its second such care facility, Oregon became the only state in the nation with 100% in-home care for persons with mental disadvantages).
In 2005 some very forward-thinking individuals purchased 32 acres of the Fairview property and began to build a community unlike anything ever seen. They named this development Pringle Creek Community, after the stream that runs through the middle of the property. I knew nothing of the changes going on at the property until 2016 when my granddaughter, who was 15 at the time, asked to borrow my camera so she could take pictures of the doomed Fairview buildings. We all knew the fate of those buildings, that it was only a matter of time, and apparently my granddaughter was more aware of how close that time was. I applauded her social awareness and sent her off with my camera and my blessing.
Among the pictures she took were the familiar old buildings from long ago peeling with neglect and crumbling with misuse. Graffiti in large, balloonish, cartoon-like pink letters outlined first in black then in red proclaimed one blue wall a MUTANT, while high above, shocks of light poured in through a wall of many windows, some broken out of the frames, some cracked, and some standing defiant and magnifying the sun in occasional spots of MUTANT into a whitish yellow.
In another photo a pair of black painted crosses looked like paper cutouts as they were painted on the wall a few feet from each other, one a solid black while the other a thick outline, both the same size. Both hanging at the same catawampus angle. The windows in this photo were much lower, about halfway up the wall. Some glass still clung to the frames, some was cracked through with wide splinters splaying long fingers of frost across the pane, yet most of the windows were broken out and the bushes from outside were climbing in. Within the interiors of these buildings were cabinets, inner rooms with tall windows, winding ramps, undisturbed tables, tipped cabinets, a rail system I am assuming was used for industrial sized laundry carts, an ever-present person drawn in silhouette in all manner of poses and looking like a shadow of someone actually there, and the continual graffiti.
Looking at those photos, I waxed nostalgic, though I don’t know exactly for what. I imagine it was the windows, and those rails. My granddaughter’s pictures haunted me in the way that only the unknown does. The long arm of the past seemed to be wrapping around my shoulders, pulling me in.
The next spring I decided to go see for myself what was going on at the Fairview site. I brought along my oldest son, and two of my granddaughters (one had taken the pictures a few months before). Driving onto the narrow road off of the main street fronting the property, I didn’t even recognize the drieveway from long ago.. It seemed narrower, though just as winding as I remembered it, and was the blacktop all new? As we drove in farther, I noted something was very different. The greenhouses on the left looked brand new and the building on the right at the mini-intersection (a new intersection built on property in a state of deconstruct?). Of course, we were in a hurry to see the old buildings before they were torn down so I parked my car at the bottom of a winding hill and we hiked up past an old red-brick chimney that extended from the ground to what seemed like four stories into the air.
We walked to what I think was the old laundry building of the property, poked around for a few minutes, then a security guard came and asked us to leave. Yeah, we were trespassing. I admit I hadn’t actually thought of that and I was a bit embarrassed to be getting my grand kids in trouble for trespassing. Well, we left without incident, no harm no foul they say, and the kids do not hold it against me.
On the way back to the car, rambling down the paved curving hill, laughing together in the warm spring sunshine, I looked over the area sprawling below us and I realized that what we were looking at was not just the old Fairview property, but something new as well. There were new houses, and a park, solar panels on a refurbished building, and markers in front of many of the buildings as if we were visiting a museum.
“What is going on here?” I asked no one and everyone.
“It looks like they’re building new houses,” said my oldest granddaughter.
“Let’s take a look around,” I said, puzzled, curious, and so confused to see some of the old Fairview buildings all cleaned up with fresh paint sitting right alongside a cluster of new homes.
That is how I found out about the 12 acre parcel of ex-Fairview that is being built into the new Pringle Creek Community. The group of people who planned and were developing the area into one of the most eco-conscious communities in the United States have worked hard to not only build the new homes using high green standards, but also have incorporated the original buildings into the mix, not only by recycling the old buildings when torn down, but also by using the original buildings either as they are or with improvements.
What I discovered on this first visit to the site was the pump house. Inside the pump house were pipes and pressure tanks which access the original 400 foot industrial well that was once utilized by Fairview Training Center, pumping 300 gallons a minute. The water from this well stays 56 degrees no matter the weather because it comes from so far beneath the ground. The pressure tanks send the water to up to 77 homes and businesses throughout the area, each with a small individual compressor which extracts or repels heat to reach the desired temperature; a geothermal-loop for heating and cooling.
Somehow, I could not stay away. I was haunted by this place and I was obsessed with the ingenuity and creativity of Pringle Creek Community. One could say God was nudging me toward healing the fears of my past.
I went back on at least four different occasions, usually to show someone the innovation in the area, but mostly as an attempt to come to terms with the place myself. The responses were mixed as people digested the looming steel remains of a shed the size of a small parking garage, ponder a home-sized root cellar being used as a gathering place of sorts and also as a wine cooler, or as they stare confusedly at a rusted hatch attached to a five-foot tree trunk standing hollow and erect.
On my fourth trip out, I was able to see beyond the trepetitious haze that colored my first few visits and begin to understand the place in a new light. Perhaps it was something I knew all along so I kept coming back as a way to swipe away the fog that my cynicism had drawn by a faceless fear. It was my childhood fear of the unknown staring into the face of the can-be-known 45 years later. And it was a beautiful place with a human face.
Community is not a word taken lightly here, as all the homes are built to facilitate not only visiting with neighbors on the way to check the mail or out to water the yard, but all of the the houses are near a small park ideal for picnics and Frisbee. The community center serves as an events venue, gathering place, snack bar, and is the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum certified community building in the United States. In fact, all of the homes in this particular 12 acre neighborhood are ranked high on the LEEDs certification scale, the remaining acreage penciled in to follow suit. The walking tour guide available at the kiosk located at the intersection of Thoreau Avenue and Village Center Drive will guide visitors around on a 1.3 mile walking tour to see how recycling and re-using cement slabs and original buildings, creating green roofs, designating mixed-use sites, building tallhouses, a roundhouse, and developing green streets, are leading the way to not only building a friendlier community but a greener one.
Many of the recycled buildings are absolutely beautiful, heralding not only the present environmental consciousness, but also the sustainability the original builders had in mind. From the 1930’s is a pair of Lord and Burnham greenhouses totaling over 6,000 sq. ft. of solar-heated year-round gardening space. These redwood and steel Victorian glass house conservatories were restored in 2009 and supply year-round produce, winter lettuce, herbs, starts, and flowers. Just beyond these structures is a ½ acre outdoor garden.
Painters Hall is also from the 1930’s and is a building at Pringle Creek that is used by the community for social events, dinner, workshops, guest speakers, group meetings, art shows, concerts, and classes. It is not only a restored building from the original Fairview Training Center, it is also Leeds platinum certified, the highest ranking available. One of the key sufficiency attributes of Painters Hall is its solar panels on the roof which power the entire building as well as the geothermal-loop which can heat and cool 70 residential buildings and 7 businesses. This building is a shining example of the dual purpose of being sustainable and connecting a community.
There is a lot to see on this walk. Neighborhood gardens and orchards, bioswales, streets that absorb rain water (this is fantastic for the Willamette Valley which receives approximately 40 inches of rain a year), a net-zero neighborhood, a (humongous) fuel shed once used to store sawdust and bark chips that was formerly utilized by Fairview’s heating and hot water system. The burning wood converted well water to steam, and the hot water was used for laundry, bathing, etc. This community even maintains a guest cottage. All of these neighborhood attractions are well identified with white markers.
I do need to go back to Pringle Creek Community at least once more, though; there was something I could not during any of my previous visits. There are supposed to be two 1,000 year old Pacific Yew Trees right near Painters Hall, but for the life of me I could not find them. You would think that trees that old would just stand right out. Somehow, I missed them. I did find the Fir Grove, the Sequoia Grove, and the blueberry bushes with no problem at all. Fortunately, I dearly love visiting and exploring the site, maybe next time I will bring along a picnic basket.
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